Lorna Thomas has lived a life full of learning and rich with experience, but she realized her grandchildren were getting something she didn’t have – and wanted.
A high school diploma.
At 68, the Secwépemc great grandmother, a member of the Neskonlith band, just earned her Dogwood diploma through the Neskonlith Education Centre in Salmon Arm.
In an interview peppered with infectious laughter, she said she doesn’t feel any different.
“Maybe just a little smarter.”
With a more serious tone, she confides she feels like she’s accomplished something.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do but I never had the chance to go back to school; I was always working all the time.”
Lorna is the daughter of revered elder Dr. Mary Thomas, who died in 2007. Lorna was one of 17 children. Eleven are still alive, all but one living in Salmon Arm.
Lorna attended grades one through seven at Salmon Arm West Elementary.
She laughs about the teacher who she says helped her develop equal dexterity in both hands by hitting her left hand with a ruler every time she wrote with it.
In Grade 8 Lorna’s family moved to Surrey where school was tough, as it was through the first half of Grade 9 in Kelowna.
Around that time her mom needed more help with her siblings, so she stayed home.
Her work life has been varied, with a lot of office work, including 10 years when she ran a greenhouse and handled all the bookkeeping and other paper work.
She also worked for newspapers across B.C. and in Alberta.
She remembers when newspaper mogul Lord Thomson of Fleet came to Kelowna and she was his private secretary.
“I got to meet the dad and the son.”
Lorna raised two sons and a foster-daughter as a single mom after her eldest son was six. She now has 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren with two more on the way.
She says she learned a lot from her mom. When Mary was still alive, Lorna went to Kamloops and took ethnobotany.
“I got tired of it, I knew as much as the teacher,” she said.
Somewhat renowned locally for her delicious bannock, Lorna confirms she is the only one left who knows how to pit cook. She learned from her mom when the family used to catch fish from a fish run and barbecue it over the open fire.
Affected by medical concerns over the past few years which forced her to stop working, it was then Lorna decided it was time to go back to school.
“Then I’ve been seeing my grandchildren graduating. I thought if they can, I can do it.”
Deb McDougall, principal at Neskonlith Education Centre, said it’s exciting when adults decide they want to go back to school.
“Most are fighting horrific memories of school when they were little, that’s why they dropped out.”
She said Lorna has been extremely dedicated, showing up every day without fail, despite many obstacles.
McDougall would also like to get the word out about the centre’s Summer School programs, mainly for ages 11 and up. Those interested can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Mainly because of COVID we wanted to reach out and help people. It’s difficult, they’ve had a hard time, parents don’t know how to teach; we’re going to support families who have struggled,” McDougall explained.
As for Lorna, this Saturday will be a very special day for her.
A barbecue is being held to honour not only her but her granddaughter Ashanta August, who is also graduating this year.
Lorna laughs when she explains her granddaughter is 18 while she is 68. Just a 50-year difference.